Let me begin by apologising for puzzling Professor Tomkins. That was certainly not my intention, though puzzled he seems to be. It is symptomatic of the Conservative Party’s approach to these matters. I appreciate that Professor Tomkins is the social security spokesperson for the Conservatives in this place, but we are treating employment support rather differently. We are not treating it as part and parcel of the social security system. Clearly, there has to be interaction between those two systems, but we are treating our employment service as an opportunity to support people to get them into work and not to tie them into a manipulative and unfair social security system that sanctions them at every turn.
In response to the point that Professor Tomkins has made—rather mean-spiritedly, I have to say—about me saying one thing and doing another, I remind him that in “Creating a Fairer Scotland: Employability Support: A Discussion Paper“, which we published on 6 July 2015, we set out that
“Scotland has developed a strong ‘mixed economy’ of employability provision with important contributions made by the private, public and third sectors”,
and, in our consultation response, which was published on 22 March 2016, we said:
“We will work with suppliers to consider what support we can provide to encourage consortia approaches that reflect the existing ‘mixed economy’ in employability services in Scotland of private provision, and local authority and third sector delivery.”
In a debate that we had in the Parliament on employment services on 5 October 2016—I remember that Professor Tomkins was here for that, but he clearly was not listening—I said:
“I intend to take that opportunity to deliver employment support services ... building on our strengths in both the public and private sectors and in local authority, third sector and specialist delivery”.—[
, 5 October 2016; c 30.]
I reiterated that point at our employability summit on 23 November 2016.
In print, in public and in Parliament, I have said that employment services would be delivered across a range of suppliers. That is exactly what we are delivering. The third sector and the supported business sector are a critical element of it as well, and when we take into account all the contracts that we have awarded across the public sector, the third sector and supported businesses, those constitute the majority of the contracts that we have awarded.